Strategies to Become a More Resilient Athlete

Resilience is an essential psychological skill in sports practice. It helps athletes to face adversities related to new challenges, injuries or anxiety during training. 
Strategies to Become a More Resilient Athlete

Last update: 16 June, 2020

There are many reasons why it’s worth becoming a more resilient athlete. Beyond your physical capabilities and even beyond motivation, determination, and seeing things from a positive light, resilience makes you succeed in the sports arena. In fact, something most athletes face is the adversity that comes with stress and injuries; it constantly puts them to the test.

Defining resilience is easy: it’s that remarkable ability that allows you to get back up from a loss, a mistake, or any hardship. It’s that admirable mental strength that helps you learn from your past in order to move on with poise, courage, and wisdom.

It’s interesting to know that you can be capable of “activating” and using this valuable psychological skill. Athletes, both amateurs and professionals can enjoy major benefits from integrating some resilience principles into their lives.

This skill transcends technical aspects, training, and physical preparation; if you learn to be resilient, success is basically guaranteed.

A woman doing post-training recovery.

The key to becoming a more resilient athlete

In 2008, psychologists Nick Galli and Robin S. Vealy, from the University of Utah, conducted a study to understand what the daily difficulties of athletes looked like. 

Most athletes agreed on some issues: fear of injury, of not performing as expected, self-doubt, anxiety before a competition, etc.

Keeping a steady level of emotions when facing hardships isn’t easy when it comes to sports. In fact, any person, athlete or not, goes through a constant self-regulation process in order to live happily.

So, athletes not only have to deal with the usual setbacks everyone faces but they also have to deal with the complications that come with the sport they practice.

On the other hand, in spite of sports psychology as a relatively new field, resilience is a well-studied matter. In fact, there are several available tools such as the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (2003) that help measure this skill. 

Studies such as the one by the University of Granada show that skiers, for instance, are on average more resilient than soccer or basketball players. Therefore, it’s necessary that every athlete learns the key to becoming more resilient.

Seligman’s ABCDE model of learned optimism to become a more resilient athlete

Martin Seligman is one of the most prominent pioneers of positive psychology. Among the areas that he’s studied most, there’s the resilience of the “learned optimism” area.

For the renowned professor of the University of Pennsylvania, this is an essential element in the well-being of human beings. That’s why he, Reivich, and McBride (2011) developed a technique to improve resilience in sports training.

  • The ABCDE model helps people understand emotions that arise in adverse situations. 
  • It focuses on, A – Adversity, which is the event that happens, B – Belief, or the interpretation of that adversity, C– Consequence, or the result of the belief, D – Disputation of negative feelings, and E – Energization as the result of successful disputation.
  • Furthermore, the model claims it’s important to identify irrational thoughts that you may have about yourself or about what happens to you. For instance, thinking, “I was injured because I’m not good enough and I won’t recover from this.”
A physiotherapist and an athlete.

Control and influence model

This model is very interesting if you want to become a more resilient athlete. Its principles are the following:

  • There are difficult situations that you can control. For example, if you’re feeling anxious about the next competition, this is something you can and must control.
  • However, other situations are simply out of your hands and you must accept that. For example, if you injure yourself, you must focus on your rehabilitation and accept that you can’t give 100 percent during training.

Refocusing in order to see a clearer reality

Refocusing is the right strategy for any complicated situation you’re facing. It’s appropriate not only to develop resilience as an athlete but to also teach your mind how to see reality from a more useful, logical, and hopeful standpoint. 

Refocusing means changing the way you interpret a negative situation. For example, if you’re part of a team and your coach isn’t making you play as much, the last thing you should do is focus on the negative, or thinking that you’re worthless.

Ideally, you should shift your attention to a more positive perspective. For instance, “My coach isn’t making me play as much as he used to. Therefore, I have to put in more effort and train harder to show him what I’m capable of.”

To conclude, becoming a more resilient athlete requires making a commitment to yourself. It’s all about understanding that life isn’t easy and that hardships are part of every situation, even in sports. Training your resilience “muscle” will be incredibly helpful at any time.

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  • Galli, Nick. S. Vealey. “Bouncing Back” From Adversity: Athletes’ Experiences of Resilience. The Sport Psychologist, 2008, 22, 316-335